By Caleb Weaver
This is the second of a two-part series on foreign policy development in social movements. Part One lays out the case for social movements as the natural home for left foreign policymaking, and Part Two traces the history of foreign policy development in the American labor movement since the end of the Cold War.
After decades of the AFL-CIO pursuing a corporation-friendly foreign policy of “business unionism,” John Sweeney’s election as federation president in 1995 marked a radical change in the way the US labor movement thought about its relationship to the outside world. Richard Trumka, Sweeney’s running mate, announced shortly after their election that “for too many years, ideology has been the chief export of the AFL-CIO…now the chief export and import will be a far more precious and relevant commodity, one called international solidarity.” The move toward international solidarity had a rocky start, but it eventually became the basis of a solidly progressive foreign policy at the AFL-CIO. The federation’s development of the infrastructure for international solidarity points the way for other social movements as they build their own foreign policy apparatuses.
Sweeney saw international solidarity as both a moral necessity and part of a larger strategy to address the crisis of declining union density. Labor’s new foreign policy emerged from the diagnosis that capital’s ability to relocate across borders had pitted countries against each other in the so-called “race to the bottom,” decimating US union density by allowing capital to flee to locales with abysmal wages and no union rights. A common refrain at the time was that corporations had beaten labor to the punch by extending their operations across borders, and that